EADS sees profits rise but announces further delay to A350 programme
Airbus parent company EADS has confirmed that the entry into service of its new A350 widebody aircraft will be delayed for at least three months and will now not happen until the second half of 2014.
The additional delay to the programme had been mooted at the Farnborough Airshow two weeks ago where the manufacturer met with a number of the company’s major clients.
EADS made the announcement during its second quarter earnings report today where it revealed that earnings had almost quadrupled from a year ago to $567million, surprising many financial analysts.
But for new chief executive Tom Enders – most questions were about Airbus. Enders was promoted to his new job from the Airbus division last month so he was well versed in the issues.
Enders said the reason for the delay was "time taken for the implementation of the automated drilling process for the wings." The results showed a $152 million charge on these delays.
Online news service flightglobal quoted A350 programme chief Didier Evrard confirming the slow pace of automated wing-drilling on the A350-900 has forced the latest schedule slip to service entry, but said the airframer believes it is overcoming the problem and aims to minimise the impact on the maiden flight.
He said the airframer having to resort to manual drilling at its Broughton, UK plant, and the locking of jigs while the automation issue was addressed had a knock-on effect on subsequent wing sets.
"The robot was not working properly, the software was not optimised," he said and the drilling "took much more time". The domino effect on production of the prototype fleet left "not enough margin to catch up", he told flightglobal. While the wing production has proven difficult, Evrard said the airframer is making "good progress" on the other sections of MSN1.
Although sources in the Gulf airlines suggest that the airlines are philosophical about the delays to the programme, some analysts believe the delays could prove even more troublesome for the European manufacturer.
Saj Ahmad said he believes Qatar Airways could be at the front of the airlines voicing their concerns.
"Qatar Airways has for a long time been extremely vocal about the need for Airbus to execute the A350XWB program with greater accuracy than it has on the A380.
With the delays to the baseline A350-900, Airbus is battling huge weight and integration issues while Qatar Airways has probably had about enough of this sort of bad news and it's little wonder why they are now poring over their 787-8 options (of which they have 30) and look to convert these to the bigger 787-9s. In all likelihood, there will be further A350 delays and Qatar Airways isn't realistically going to take delivery of the first A350-900 until sometime in 2015.
Throw in the distinct possibility that Airbus is poised to cancel the A350-800 for which Qatar Airways is also the launch customer, it's likely Airbus will throw those resources behind the A350-900 and A350-1000. “
“You have to wonder whether Airbus did learn anything from Boeing's delays on the 787 and that's what worries customers like Qatar Airways. They'll get compensation, but what they really want is the airplanes inducted so that they can grow their businesses. Airbus can ill afford to have the A350XWB follow the A380 into a loss position but it looks like it's already headed down that path, from which recovery could take at least a decade or more."
Speaking at the Financial conference Enders said the 2012 targets for sales of A380s would remain at 30 but warned it would probably sell somewhat less than that in 2013. This follows the discovery of small fractures near some rivets on wings.
Airbus is fixing the problem on affected aircraft , which it said was not a design flaw but a construction flaw that arose during the building of the first A380s. Aircraft delivered from 2014 will be built in a different way to avoid the problem, and as a result airlines are likely to defer their orders.
“Qatar Airways has rightly refused to take delivery of any A380s that require rework, instead opting to wait for the wing fix A380s to start arriving later,” said Ahmad.
Enders says the company still forecasts sales of 35-39 A380s annually by 2015, the level needed for profitability.
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